The United States Supreme Court has dealt a severe blow to the rights of arrested persons, ruling that strip searches even for minor offenses are permissible. The 5-4 majority decision held that the need to keep weapons, drugs and other contraband out of jails was much greater than an individual's right to privacy.
The case involves New Jersey citizen Albert Florence, who was pulled over by police, when he was driving with his wife and children in his car. The officer found that Florence had been named in an earlier warrant, and had a pending fine. He was arrested, and taken to 2 county jails. It later turned out that the fine had actually been paid, and that there was no pending warrant at all.
In jail, Florence was subjected to a humiliating strip search. The strip search procedures involved making him squat and cough, and hold up his genitals. He was also subjected to a visual inspection by prison guards.
When law enforcement officers found that there was no pending warrant against him, Florence was released. He filed a lawsuit against both the counties, and the case ultimately went to the United States Supreme Court.
Now the Supreme Court has held that the strip search was justified, and that it was not possible for officials at the county jail to forgo strip searches, just because a person does not look very dangerous. Supreme Court justice Thomas Kennedy used the example of Timothy McVeigh, who was arrested for a traffic offense, in order to illustrate the reasons for his ruling.
Civil liberties groups and San Diego criminal defense attorneys have strongly criticized the ruling. In California, there are restrictions on the application of strip searches. These restrictions are in place to protect individual liberties and prevent arbitrary actions by law-enforcement.